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Learning Styles

Tomorrow's Teaching and Learning

Message Number: 


A lot of attention has been given in recent years to student learning

styles, how they may differ from faculty teaching styles, and what to do

about such differences. The excerpt below is a brief look at this issue

written primarily for beginning faculty. It is from: The Adjunct

Professor's Guide to Success: Surviving and Thriving in the College

Classroom, Chapter 4 - Today's Undergraduate Students, pp. 41-42. by

Richard E. Lyons, Marcella L. Kysilka, and George E. Pawlas, Allyn & Bacon,

A Viacom Company, Needham Heigths, MA. Copyright ?1999 Allyn & Bacon,

reprinted with permission.


Rick Reis

UP NEXT: A New University With a Soul

Tomorrow's Teaching and Learning


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In recent years, mountains of data have been gathered to help educators more

conclusively understand how students learn. Presenting a great deal of that

information at this stage in your development as an instructor would

probably be counterproductive, but a sample might provide insight to aid you

in your initial teaching assignment.

One of the most interesting efforts, commonly referred to as "brain-based"

research, seeks to understand learning from the perspective of where and how

certain types of information are processed. It suggests there are two major

types of learners - those in whom the "right brain" is dominant, and those

with a dominant "left brain." Right-brained learners tend to be intuitive,

imaginative, and impulsive; they prefer to start with a broad idea and then

pursue supporting information. They learn best by seeing and doing in an

informal, busy, and somewhat unstructured environment. On the other hand,

left-brain learners tend to be analytical, rational, and objective; they

prefer putting together many facts to arrive at a general understanding.

Right-brain learners prefer group discussions, simulations, panels, and

other activity-based learning, whereas left-brain learners prefer

traditional lectures, demonstrations, and assigned readings. Although there

are many exceptions, females tend to be right-brain dominant, while males

tend to be left-brain dominant. The traditional lecture/demonstration

approach is typically more effective with male learners rather than female

students. At the same time, research indicates females are more effective

in utilizing left-brain approaches than men are in utilizing right-brain

approaches, and that females are more successful in transitioning from

left-brain to right-brain approaches, and vice versa than males are.

Another view of learning styles categorizes learners by the types of

activities from which they derive the greatest payoff. It yields "tactile

learners," who respond to physical objects that can be handled while

studies; "visual Learners," who facilitate their learning through us of

charts, maps, and graphs, "auditory learners," who respond more effectively

to the spoken rather than the written word, and others.

In this and other discussions related to teaching styles, the enlightened

instructor probably will ask which of two major strategies is most

effective. That is, should the professor initially adapt to the preferred

learning styles of students or expect students to first adapt to his or her

preferred methods? It is a highly complex issues with no instant answers.

Each situation requires some study and individualized decisions to arrive at

the "best" approach. Some professors can flex themselves quite effectively

to the learning styles of students, while others would lose so much

confidence in themselves in trying to do so that they might become totally

ineffective in the classroom.

Having said all of this, remember that each student in front of you is in

many ways unique. While it is useful to make yourself aware of the wide

variety of issues impacting students today, there is risk in ever assuming

you have heard or seen enough. Get to know each one of your students as

well as you can, first by speaking with each one in the initial class, then

asking each to complete the "Student Profile" form, located in Appendix 6-1.

Later, build an ongoing dialogue with diverse students that will markedly

increase your insights and create an accessibility to you in the students'

minds that will markedly improve their motivation, attention levels, and

understanding of your perspective. One of the greatest rewards of teaching

is allowing yourself to be sufficiently vulnerable that you empower students

to share more of themselves with you and their peers than might at times be

comfortable. It is critical that you regularly assess your values and

predispositions, talk with veteran instructors from whose experiences you

can learn, and reflect upon you teaching experiences.